Reviews/Musical Theatre

Love is in the Hair

25 August 2019

Review: David M. Hawkins, Hair: the American Tribal Love Rock Musical ⋅
His Majesty’s Theatre, August 24 
Review by Rosalind Appleby 

In the music theatre world there is a large step from the wholesomeness of Fiddler on the Roof (1964) to the rock musicals of Jesus Christ Superstar (1970) and Rocky Horror Show (1973). In between is Hair: the American Tribal Love Rock Musical (1967), the first-ever rock musical with songs that became the anthems of the Vietnam War protestors.

Hair revolutionised music theatre. And it wasn’t just the rock music. 50 years later it still packs a disorientating punch with its loosely structured medley of rock songs, minimal dialogue and subversive politics. And then there is the wild celebration of hippie culture with onstage nudity, profanity and substance abuse.

David M. Hawkins’ Australian revival of Hair began its national tour in Perth last week and on opening night Amy Campbell’s swirling, free-wheeling choreography (not a chorus line in sight) set the vibe. Adam Gardnir’s minimal set (scaffolding draped with colourful sheets) is offset by the flamboyance of James Browne’s costumes: harem pants, kaftans, beaded dresses, rainbows, flares… And of course the hair: dreadies, afros, long hair everywhere.

Paulini commanded the stage as Dionne. Photo by Alison Rodrigues

Cleverly enshrouded under the scaffolding was Tina Harris directing the band through Galt MacDermot’s score, flowing smoothly from electric guitar riffs to military marches via tribal drumming, ballads and a hoedown. Hits like Good Morning Starshine, Easy to Be Hard, Aquarius and I Got Life propelled the show along and riding the wave were four stunning soloists.

Hugh Sheridan’s swaggering high school drop-out Berger oozed sexuality, relishing the opportunity to clamber through the audience wearing little more than Indian tassels. He was offset by Prinnie Steven’s sophisticated Sheila, sung with husky sweetness. Australian Idol star Paulini is relatively new to music theatre (she made her debut in Bodyguard in 2017), but commanded the stage as Dionne, singing with agility and power; White Boy was a show highlight. Recent WAAPA graduate Matthew Manahan held his own among the star power as an endearingly vulnerable Claude. They were backed by an explosive ensemble who projected non-stop energy into the audience culminating in the exhilarating finale Let The Sunshine.

The explosive ensemble cast in Hair. Photo by Alison Rodrigues.

Director Cameron Menzies has embraced the original intent of Hair writers Gerome Ragni and James Rado, enveloping the audience in the sweaty, hairy embrace of hippy culture, in all its glorious freedom and messy failure. He adds some interesting twists: in the hallucination scene Claude witnesses a roll call of American heroes that includes an African American female Abraham Lincoln and the final nude scene is flipped shockingly on its head, as the audience finally finds out what happened to Claude after conscription.

As conservatism once again dominates our global politics Hair’s themes of non-conformity, community and global responsibility are refreshingly welcome. The audience standing ovation confirmed I wasn’t the only one wanting to let the sunshine in.

Hair continues in Perth until September 1 then on to Geelong, Wyong, Wollongong, Sydney, and Gold Coast.

Pictured top: Matthew Manahan as Claude and Hugh Sheridan as Berger. Photo by Alison Rodrigues.

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Author —
Rosalind Appleby

Rosalind Appleby is an arts journalist, author and speaker. She is co-editor of Seesaw Magazine, author of Women of Note, and has written for The West Australian, The Guardian, The Australian, Limelight magazine and Opera magazine. She loves the percussion instruments which can be found in the uber cool parks.

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